Interview

Winning at FMEAs and how it helped boost business

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

Nimisha Raja pictured (centre) at the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards
Nimisha Raja pictured (centre) at the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards

Related tags Food manufacturing excellence awards Food manufacturing excellence Nim’s fruit crisps Innovation Ambient Npd Sustainability Health

With the Food Manufacturing Awards nearing, Food Manufacture caught up with one of our previous winners to find out more about their story, how their business is faring and what impact the awards had...

Nimisha Raja started her career in dry cleaning, and it was clear from the beginning she was an innovator.

“Believe it or not, we were one of the first [cleaning] companies to offer deliveries,”​ she told Food Manufacture’s editor. “I’ve always been focused on giving a better service, a better product.”

The idea for her company Nim’s Fruits Crisps was, however, not inspired until later, during her time running a coffee shop.

She described seeing her customers’ struggle between the easy choice of crisps or the healthy (and perhaps not so desirable option) of fruit as a snack for their child.

So why not put the two together? Raja thought.

And that’s exactly what she did.

Fast forward to 2016 and Raja’s company took home the Food Manufacture Excellence Awards’ (FMEAs)​ trophy for SME Innovation. And that wasn’t the end of her accolades – last year Nim’s Fruit Crisps also took home Ambient Food Manufacturing Company of the Year​ for the second time (having won back in 2020), following the company’s rapid expansion since its first FMEA entry.

So with FMEAs just around the corner, what has Raja and Nim’s Fruit Crisps been up to since? And what’s the secret to the brand’s multiple wins?

Slow and steady

After the initial spark of inspiration, Raja got to work in her kitchen before upscaling to her garage. It was a slow slog, but determination and grit saw her and her team finally managing to secure a factory in Sittingbourne – which measures 10,000ft2​.

“We signed the lease about seven years ago and it took around a year to set up,” ​she recalled. “We began with just air-dried fruit crisps – apple, pineapple, mango, etc. – and then expanded into dried vegetable crisps and infusions such as drinks and garnishes, with everything being air-dried and 100% natural.”

The company is now even supplying ingredients to high-profile restaurants, having expanded its net from retail.

A winning formula

Behind its success story is the way in which the products are processed.

Raja explained that Nim’s niche is its ability to lock in the goodness of the fruit – and the key is a gentle drying process. Harsh temperatures and even timings can alter the level of nutrients.

“We’ve also developed our method to an extent that it’s not a long process,”​ Raja said. “Our process is fairly unique.

“Traditionally, you’d dry fruit in a dehydrator, which is a long, static process. It kills everything. If I was going to make something, it had to be good for you, it had to have nutritional value. Otherwise there’s no point.”

In the early developmental stages of Nim’s, Raja noted that long shelf-life can often mean less nutritional value, but with sustainability being a key factor in her ambitions, a workaround was needed.

“I often wondered when I looked at products, how can fresh fruit ​[based items] have such a long shelf-life? And after investigating I found out all the nutritional content is gone…and I thought, is there any way to give fruit and vegetables a longer shelf life?”

And was there? Apparently so.

“Our products last years,” ​Raja remarked. “I opened up a product made six years ago and it still tasted great and looked the same.”

Although Raja admitted after several years you “might lose a bit of crunch”​ - but that’s pretty good going in the grand scheme of things.

And it’s all to do with the proprietary process – a well-guarded secret which Raja wasn’t about to let slip. “You’re not getting any more out of me,”​ she quipped.

Despite not being able to reveal the magic process, Raja said everything she does is about transparency and honesty.

“I never want someone to feel the need to turn the pack over and check the ingredients and claims.”

In essence, she wanted to create a brand name steeped in trust and integrity.

The Food Manufacturing Excellence Awards

Commenting on what winning at the FMEAs meant to her, Raja said it made her and the team “even more determined to innovate”.

She explained that she had entered the SME Innovator award in the company’s infancy. “I think we’d been established a year. Given how small we were, how young as a company, I had no expectation of making the shortlist even…and as it happens, we ended up winning! It was such a boost.

“It gives you encouragement because it qualifies what you’re doing.”

But it was the ambient award which Raja said truly knocked her for six. “I was gobsmacked! There are amazing companies in ambient production and that have been making ambient products for a long time.”

It’s about taking part

Raja also added that being shortlisted for an ingredients award induced a buzz among restaurants for the brand. “That was so useful to us because we were losing some of our retail trade due to Covid.”

She continued that going to awards was also a great opportunity to meet people (oh - and dress up). “We keep in touch through social media and follow each other and help boost our egos,” ​she stated on the contacts she’d made at previous award nights.

“It’s a beautiful event and everyone’s happy. It’s a great thing to do.”

What next?

The pandemic made Raja realise that the brand had to be more than a “one trick pony”​ and this has fuelled her desire to innovate and expand more so.

“We have to spread our risk and also be known as an innovator – and we need to keep innovating. Mostly, it’ll be about increasing our range of products, as opposed to just being known as a fruit crisp company.”

Along with diversifying, Raja said the focus is on sustainability. The company has been working hard to develop relationships with other industry players to reduce waste and find side streams, as well as internally innovating in this realm, for example by turning pineapple skin into fibre-based powders and apple cores into pet treats.

From humble beginnings, Raja’s company has continued to flourish and innovate, helping it face the gruelling challenges the last several years have dealt. And we can’t wait to find out the next chapter of the Nim’s journey.

Don’t miss out on your chance to be part of the FMEAs and celebrate the hard work of the food and drink sector. Book your tickets now. 

Sponsors

The headline sponsor:

Menzies​​​​​

Event Sponsors:

Aptean​​​​

Columbus​​​​

DDK​​​​

Foodex Manufacturing Solutions​​​​ ​​​

Foodmanjobs​​​​

Nvolve​​​​

National Skills Academy/OAL​​

The People Co​​

Tracegains

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